Flight Centre are no longer charging each customer a $300 cancellation fee if travel was cancelled due to COVID-19, backdated to the 13th of March. This would not include any fee charged by tour operators or airlines.
Previously, the popular travel agency had been charging $300 for cancelled international flights and $50 for cancelled domestic flights. Some customers claimed that their fee was higher depending on the trip that they booked.
Buckled under weeks of pressure
After weeks of pressure from furious customers on social media, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) changed their stance on the matter and urged the company to rethink the fees.
Flight Centre buckled under the added pressure of not only angry customers, but threats from the ACCC to undergo court action if a remedy was not made.
“The decision to waive fees will impact our business, nevertheless we have heard your feedback and we believe this step is the right one for the current economic conditions where stand-downs and job loss are a daily occurrence for many Australians,” Allisa O’Connell, Flight Centre executive general manager, said in a statement following consultation with the ACCC. “Please note this waiver applies to our fees – we cannot waive fees or conditions that airlines and other third-party suppliers impose.”
Some customers have called out Flight Centre since the change, claiming that it was too little, too late. Many loyal customers have also said that despite a great deal of years using the company, they have since decided to boycott it due to the controversial complications from COVID-19-related trip cancellations.
The power of social media
More than 6,000 customers made complaints to the ACCC in regard to the cancellation fees.
Customers also added pressure on Flight Centre social media profiles including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. There was even a Facebook group titled “Flight Centre – Give Us Our Refunds!”, involving a hoard of furious customers based on the substantial cost of the cancellation fees.
Who gets their fees waived?
Following their announcement on the 2nd of May regarding the welcome amendment to Flight Centre‘s Change and Cancellation Policy, they made the following statement:
“To support Australian’s during this very difficult time, Flight Centre and our parent company FCTG has made the decision to completely waive our usual Cancellation Fees for bookings where the travel provider (usually an airline, cruise line, or tour operator) has cancelled its service – and you are unable to travel as a result. The waiver, which is in addition to the other waivers and amendments that we have announced previously, follows ongoing discussions with customers and regulators, including the ACCC, and will apply retrospectively to bookings cancelled as a result of COVID-19 on or after 13 March 2020 for which a Flight Centre Cancellation Fee was charged.”
They also announced that each customer who has chosen not to have their fee waived will receive a Flight Centre voucher $200 in value.
At what cost to Flight Centre?
Following Flight Centre‘s announcement that they would be waiving their controversial cancellation fees, they have now stated that they believe it will come at a cost of $80 million.
The cost comes after the company backdated cancellation fees customers have paid from the 13th of March. Over 100,000 refund requests for airline tickets have been made by the company and 48,000 customers have been paid back.
“We currently have around 77,000 other outstanding refunds to process. These include itineraries with multiple third-party suppliers (hotels, tours, airlines),” Flight Centre said in a statement. “We are processing refund requests in date order . . . It’s difficult to say exactly how many will still come through as conditions continue to change. Around 30 per cent of our customers are leaving their money on file with us so there’s no refund to be paid in this instance. Over the past six weeks, and the coming six weeks, we will process approximately three years of cancellations.”
What does this mean for other cancellation fees charged by businesses due to COVID-19?
“Travel providers must honour the terms and conditions agreed to at the time the consumer purchased their flights, cruises, tours, or accommodation,” a spokesperson told the Guardian. “Informing customers that they have no right to a refund when in fact they do is likely to constitute misleading conduct in breach of the Australian Consumer Law.”
If this Flight Centre drama has told travelling customers around the world anything, it is that there is no harm in fighting for your rights.